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April 30, 2008

Global Warming Hits the Arctic (But Skips the Antarctic?)

A New York Times article spent nine paragraphs on the damage to the Arctic from global warming. At the top of the article is a substantial photo showing shrinking ice around Canada's Northwest Passage.

Then at the end of the article, there is a tenth paragraph, consisting of the following single sentence:

(p. A6) Sea ice around Antarctica has seen unusual winter expansions recently, and this week is near a record high.

Global warming is an important issue. So in judging the truth and severity of global warming, why is the shrinking of ice in the arctic, worth so much more attention than the expanding of ice in the antarctic?

(In fairness to the NYT, given the overwhelming politically correct pressure to be onboard the global warming bandwagon, especially among NYT readers, one might argue that what made the article notable was not that it lacked objective balance, but that the NYT had the courage to include the final sentence at all.)

For the full story, or at least the part of the full story that the NYT wants to report, see:

ANDREW C. REVKIN. "Scientists Report Severe Retreat of Arctic Ice." The New York Times (Fri., September 21, 2007): A6.

April 29, 2008

Seniors Want Independence and to Live in Familiar Surroundings

StairsGeorgeAllen.jpg "Climbing stairs is a challenge for George Allen." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- On a bluff overlooking the Potomac River, George and Anne Allen, both 82, struggle to remain in their beloved three-story house and neighborhood, despite the frailty, danger and isolation of old age.

Mr. Allen has been hobbled since he fractured his spine in a fall down the stairs, and he expects to lose his driver's license when it comes up for renewal. Mrs. Allen recently broke four ribs getting out of bed. Neither can climb a ladder to change a light bulb or crouch under the kitchen sink to fix a leak. Stores and public transportation are an uncomfortable hike.

So the Allens have banded together with their neighbors, who are equally determined to avoid being forced from their homes by dependence. Along with more than 100 communities nationwide -- a dozen of them planned here in Washington and its suburbs -- their group is part of a movement to make neighborhoods comfortable places to grow old, both for elderly men and women in need of help and for baby boomers anticipating the future.

"We are totally dependent on ourselves," Mr. Allen said. "But I want to live in a mixed community, not just with the elderly. And as long as we can do it here, that's what we want."

Their group has registered as a nonprofit corporation, is setting membership dues, and is lining up providers of transportation, home repair, companionship, security and other services to meet their needs at home for as long as possible.

Urban planners and senior housing experts say this movement, organized by residents rather than government agencies or social service providers, could make "aging in place" safe and affordable for a majority of elderly people. Almost 9 in 10 Americans over the age of 60, according to AARP polls, share the Allens' wish to live out their lives in familiar surroundings.

. . .

(p. A18) The first village in the Washington area is expected to be on Capitol Hill. When it opens for business on Oct. 1, annual memberships will be $750 for a couple and $500 for an individual.

Among those eager to join are Marie Spiro, 74, and Georgine Reed, 78, who share a rambling house that they insist they will only leave "feet first." Between them, Ms. Spiro, an emeritus professor of art history and archaeology, and Ms. Reed, a retired designer of museum exhibits, have already endured three knee replacements and an array of other ailments.

Ms. Spiro describes huffing and puffing while grocery shopping; Ms. Reed is increasingly reluctant to visit friends across town. Both women, who are childless, would already welcome help with meals, transportation and paperwork. If they need home care, Capitol Hill Village will be able to organize that.

"I've never had to rely on other people, and I never wanted to," Ms. Spiro said. "But I'd rather pay a fee than have to ask favors."

For the full story, see:

JANE GROSS "A Grass-Roots Effort to Grow Old at Home The New York Times (Tues., August 14, 2007): A1 & A18.

(Note: ellipses added; caption for the George Allen photo is the online caption, not the different one in the print version of the article.)

SpiroMarie.jpg "Georgine Reed, 78, right, and Marie Spiro, 74, share a Capitol Hill home and are joining a group that will help them stay there. "I'd rather pay a fee," Ms. Spiro said, "than have to ask favors."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

April 28, 2008

Wal-Mart Designs Health Care Around the Needs of Consumers

LedlieAliciaWalMartHealth.jpg "Alicia Ledlie, senior director of health business development for Wal-Mart, said walk-in medical clinics would look like the mockup behind her, in a warehouse in Bentonville, Ark." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. C4) Moving to upgrade its walk-in medical clinic business, Wal-Mart is set to announce on Thursday plans for several hundred new clinics at its stores, using a standardized format and jointly branded with hospitals and medical groups.

. . .

Walk-in medical clinics are a growing industry, with numerous competitors that include big-box retailers, drugstores and even grocery chains around the country. Industry executives say 1,500 to 1,800 clinics will be open by the end of the year.

Propelled by the drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens, by far the biggest sponsors of the clinics to date, more than 700 clinics have opened in the last 15 months. But the business model is unproven so far.

Few, if any, clinics are profitable, according to industry analysts, and only a handful have broken even on daily operations. Most have been open a year or less, and executives say it takes up to three years for a clinic to become profitable enough to recover start-up costs.

Medical societies are inclined to be skeptical of the clinics. The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes them, saying they add to fragmentation in the health care system.

Dr. Edward Zissman, a pediatrician in central Florida, said he had qualms about hospitals that hook up with the clinics. "Putting their name on a product that I don't think has the highest quality," he said, "is going to cost them dearly with physicians."

The American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Medical Association have set forth principles for clinics to observe, including sending patients' medical record to their doctors and finding doctors for patients who do not already have them. Most states require varying degrees of physician supervision of the clinic nurses. Clinic operators say they are complying.

Many patients have said they like the convenience of the walk-in clinics' weekend and evening hours, the short waiting times to see a nurse practitioner, and the posted price lists for a limited menu of care like tests and prescriptions for sore throats and ear infections and seasonal flu shots.

. . .

"The clinics are the latest big example of how you could think about consumers and what their needs are, rather than a health care system exclusively designed around the needs of providers," said Margaret Laws, director of an innovations program at the California Health Care Foundation, an independent group that finances health policy research.

For the full story, see:

MILT FREUDENHEIM. "Wal-Mart Will Expand In-Store Medical Clinics." The New York Times (Thurs., February 7, 2008): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

WalMartMedicalClinicDesign.jpg "The design of the Wal-Mart medical clinic is intended to look like a doctor's office, complete with the usual medical hardware." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

April 27, 2008

Hitler's Critique of American Materialism

Here are some musings by Hitler, in which he compares Germany under Hitler's National Socialism, with America. The musings are dated August 1, 1942, and are quoted in the article cited below:

(p. 3) I grant you that our standard of life is lower. But the German Reich has 270 opera houses - a standard of cultural existence of which they over there have no conception. They have clothes, food, cars and a badly constructed house - but with a refrigerator! This sort of thing does not impress us.

For the full story, see:

MARC D. CHARNEY. "Ideas & Trends; Well, at Least He Liked Our Cars." The New York Times, Section 4 (Sun., April 3, 2005): 3.

April 26, 2008

"Isn't This a Teeny-Weeny Bit of Socialism?"

(p. 12) FROM the very beginning of the nation's modern social welfare system -- even before Michael Moore began to explore the issue -- there was a tension in it: What should the government be expected to provide? What should be left to the individual? How much government is too much?

The questions were asked even in 1935, not exactly a time to instill confidence in the resilient power of private markets. Senator Thomas Pryor Gore, Democrat of Oklahoma, put it bluntly when Frances Perkins, the secretary of labor, testified on Capitol Hill that year about President Franklin D. Roosevelt's plan for a new program called Social Security.

''Isn't this socialism?'' Senator Gore demanded. When Ms. Perkins denied it, he asked again: ''Isn't this a teeny-weeny bit of socialism?'' In recent days, on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail, a new version of that debate has been flaring, this time around an issue that the New Dealers decided (perhaps wisely) to put off for a later date: health care.

For the full commentary, see:

Robin Toner. "IDEAS & TRENDS; Less, Less, Less! More, More, Moore!" The New York Times, Week in Review section (Sun., August 5, 2007): 12.

April 25, 2008

Active Volcano in Antarctica: Another Cause for Melting Ice

VolcanoActiveAntarctic.jpg Source of graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A8) Here is another factor that might be contributing to the thinning of some of the Antarctica's glaciers: volcanoes.

In an article published Sunday on the Web site of the journal Nature Geoscience, Hugh F. J. Corr and David G. Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey report the identification of a layer of volcanic ash and glass shards frozen within an ice sheet in western Antarctica.

For Antarctica, "This is the first time we have seen a volcano beneath the ice sheet punch a hole through the ice sheet," Dr. Vaughan said.

Heat from a volcano could still be melting ice and contributing to the thinning and speeding up of the Pine Island Glacier, which passes nearby, but Dr. Vaughan doubted that it could be affecting other glaciers in West Antarctica, which have also thinned in recent years. Most glaciologists, including Dr. Vaughan, say that warmer ocean water is the primary cause.

For the full story, see:

KENNETH CHANG. "Scientists Find Active Volcano In Antarctica." The New York Times (Mon., January 21, 2008): A8.

April 24, 2008

Searching for Curb Parking Causes 30% of Central Business District Congestion

(p. A19) MOST people view traffic with a mixture of rage and resignation: rage because congestion wastes valuable time, resignation because, well, what can anyone do about it? People have places to go, after all; congestion seems inevitable.

But a surprising amount of traffic isn't caused by people who are on their way somewhere. Rather, it is caused by those who have already arrived. Streets are clogged, in part, by drivers searching for a place to park.

Several studies have found that cruising for curb parking generates about 30 percent of the traffic in central business districts. In a recent survey conducted by Bruce Schaller in the SoHo district in Manhattan, 28 percent of drivers interviewed while they were stopped at traffic lights said they were searching for curb parking. A similar study conducted by Transportation Alternatives in the Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn found that 45 percent of drivers were cruising.

. . .

If cities want to reduce congestion, clean the air, save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve neighborhoods -- and do it all quickly -- they should charge the right price for curb parking, and spend the resulting revenue to improve local public services.

For the full commentary, see:

Donald Shoup. "Gone Parkin'." The New York Times (Thurs., March 29, 2007): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

April 23, 2008

The Inefficiency of Zoning Laws

CasinoVegasTrailerZoning.jpg "It may not look like much, but the opening of this casino, for one day only, let its owner keep a crucial zoning designation." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A11) For eight hours on Tuesday, Station Casinos opened a nondescript 40-by-10-foot trailer on a vacant 26-acre plot about six miles east of the Strip with just 16 slot machines. The sole purpose was to comply with a state law that requires public gambling to occur on a property for at least one shift every two years in order for the landowner to retain the valuable zoning designation needed to conduct wagering.

. . .

As of midday, nobody but reporters had turned out for the event, which had been publicized by only a few bloggers on the Internet. The biggest payout on the bank of video poker and blackjack machines was $2.50.

. . .

The opening of the nameless temporary casino, which the local newspaper dubbed Trailer Station, was rich in red tape, including seven permits, approvals from the City Council and the Nevada Gaming Control Board, and a certificate of occupancy.

As required by the city code, the trailer, brought onto the land just for the day, came complete with a portable toilet outside and, to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, a wheelchair-accessible entrance. A casino floor manager sat at one end of the narrow room ready to pay out winnings should there be any, a security guard patrolled outside, and two city zoning officers visited for 20 minutes to inspect and fill out paperwork.

For the full story, see:

STEVE FRIESS. "If This Happens in Vegas, It Can Sure Stay in Vegas." The New York Times (Weds., January 9, 2008): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

CasinoVegasSlotsZoning.jpg "A floor manager watched over 16 slot machines Tuesday, but there was hardly a rush on them." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

April 22, 2008

Lack of Legal Status for Poor Keeps Them "In Constant Fear"

The passage below is quoted from a WSJ summary of an article in the July 16, 2007 issue of Time:

(p. B5) Writing in Time magazine, Ms. Albright, former U.S. secretary of state, and Mr. de Soto, a Peruvian-born economist who heads the Institute for Liberty and Democracy in Lima, say that about half of the world's population work in shadow economies. They generally lack birth certificates, legal addresses or, crucially, deeds to their shacks and market stalls. "Without legal documents, they live in constant fear of being evicted by local officials or landlords," write Ms. Albright and Mr. de Soto, who co-chair the U.N. Commission on Legal Empowerment of the poor. As a result, the poor are unable to invest or even plan for the future.

For the full summary, see:

"The Informed Reader; Poverty; Lack of Strong Legal Identity Helps Keep Down World's Poor." Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 6, 2007): B5.

April 21, 2008

Oil Output Optimism


Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A4) Output from the world's existing oil fields is declining at a rate of about 4.5% annually, a new study concludes, depriving the world of the same amount of oil that No. 4 producer Iran supplies in a year.

Yet the study's authors, Boston-based Cambridge Energy Research Associates, argue that their assessment supports a generally rosy view of the industry's future, given that new projects in the works will make up for the decline.

Set for release today, the study, based on data from 811 fields around the world, takes aim at a growing school of thought that the world's oil production may soon hit its peak just as demand is surging in Asia and the Middle East.

"This study supports a view that there is no impending short-term peak in global oil production," the paper concludes. CERA, led by oil historian Daniel Yergin, is a prominent adviser to oil companies.

. . .

Mr. Yergin said that the huge number of projects under way in Brazil, Saudi Arabia, West Africa, the Caspian Sea and the Gulf of Mexico will more than make up for natural declines from fields now in production.

"This is a daily, hourly and minute-by-minute challenge for the world's oil industry," he said. "But for every Iran you are losing, you are gaining almost two Irans in return."

For the full story, see:

NEIL KING JR. "Slower Oil-Field Decline Is Seen." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., January 17, 2008): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added; the online title is: "New Fields May Offset Oil Drop.")

April 20, 2008

Google Does Evil: How to Succeed by Lobbying the Regulators

(p. A14) You're saying to yourself, haven't Google and friends been gnashing their teeth over the landline practices of the Verizons and Comcasts, demanding "net neutrality" regulations to be erected against crimes to be named later? Yes, and without much success. Consider a recent Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute study that found that imposing Google's idea of "net neutrality" (i.e., restricting a network operator's ability to prioritize urgent and non-urgent data) would end up cutting a network's peak capacity in half.

Now Google and friends are turning to wireless, which they hope will prove a softer target. Here operators traditionally have built networks for the restricted purpose of letting customers make voice calls with an operator-supplied cellphone. But most operators have also started rolling out all-purpose broadband on their wireless networks, albeit high-priced and painfully slow (evidence of their need to ration capacity carefully to protect higher-priority voice traffic).

Verizon offers BroadbandAccess, a service that allows a customer, with a laptop card, to use Verizon's wireless network for Web surfing. AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint offer similar services. Likewise, Sprint and Clearwire are building out a new kind of wireless network, WiMax, for truly fast mobile broadband.

That's not good enough for Google and its allies, who want the government to require wireless operators to provide unrestricted Web surfing to buyers of basic phone plans. Don't be misled by the "net neutrality" and "open access" masquerades. This is nothing but business-model chauvinism, aided not a little by the mental clottedness of regulators, who evidently can be led to believe that any network operating on digital principles must be packaged and sold to customers in only one way.

. . .

Make no mistake: Google understands that restricting a wireless operator's ability to design its own business model can, by definition, only reduce its incentive to invest. But Google has bigger fish to fry. It wants to make sure it can continue to free-ride on your broadband subscription bills, even in the mobile world. It wants to make sure it won't have to share the proceeds of its massive search and advertising dominance with suppliers of network capacity.

Most of all, it wants to replicate in mobile search and advertising the overpowering position it has achieved in the fixed broadband world -- something that might not be possible if wireless operators are left any opportunity to carve out a business model other than as simply suppliers of the proverbial "dumb pipe."

For the full commentary, see:

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. "Business World: Sort of Evil." Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 18, 2007): A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

April 19, 2008

Retreat of Ice Is "Opening Up New Possibilities"

Source of map: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. R12) The Arctic summers have grown longer, raising concerns among scientists and environmentalists that the polar ice cap is melting and that carbon emissions from oil and other fossil fuels are to blame. But for players in the energy industry, the longer summers and the retreat of the permanent ice cover are opening up new possibilities.

. . .

Energy companies already are seeing a "dramatic difference" in the amount of time they can work in the far north, says Mike Watts, exploration director at Cairn Energy PLC, an Edinburgh, Scotland-based company. On Jan. 9 it acquired licenses to explore off the west coast of Greenland, which is a self-governed province of Denmark. Greenland is also considering a sale of east-coast rights in 2012. For the moment, those waters remain choked with ice year-round, but four years from now "that might have changed," says Mr. Watts.

. . .

Efforts by GustoMSC and other offshore-drilling experts represent the first significant research push into Arctic drilling technology in 20 years. At present, only around five rigs are capable of drilling in Arctic waters more than 300 feet deep, where energy companies are increasingly turning their focus, and even those tend to operate in 2,000 feet of water or less. Rigs now under construction will be able to search for oil in waters up to 12,000 feet. But Bob Long, chief executive at Transocean Inc., the world's largest offshore driller, estimates it will be 15 years before the supply of deep-water Arctic rigs catches up with demand.

. . .

To create Bully No. 1, GustoMSC took the standard design for its latest generation drillship -- which looks like an oil tanker with a derrick on top -- and set about winterizing it. The Bully will feature the bow of an icebreaker and be constructed from an ultra-flexible grade of steel to protect the hull from shattering in extreme cold. Heating systems will be installed along every inch of piping. Special heating units will also protect ballast tanks, which use seawater to stabilize the rig and can freeze in extreme cold. Engine vents will be widened and warmed to keep ice from building up.

For the full story, see:

BRIAN BASKIN. "Producers; Northern Exposure; As the Arctic gets warmer, oil and gas producers see the chance for a big expansion. But plenty of technological hurdles remain." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., February 11, 2008): R12. & R14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

"ARCTIC EXPLORER. The Bully No. 1 drillship, now being built in Shanghai, will start work in 2010." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

April 18, 2008

Ban on DDT is a Lethal Vestige of Colonialism

(p. A16) Environmental leaders must join the 21st century, acknowledge the mistakes Carson made, and balance the hypothetical risks of DDT with the real and devastating consequences of malaria. Uganda has demonstrated that, with the proper support, we can conduct model indoor spraying programs and ensure that money is spent wisely, chemicals are handled properly, our program responds promptly to changing conditions, and malaria is brought under control.

Africa is determined to rise above the contemporary colonialism that keeps us impoverished. We expect strong leadership in G-8 countries to stop paying lip service to African self-determination and start supporting solutions that are already working.

For the full commentary, see:

Sam Zaramba. "Give Us DDT." Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jun 12, 2007): A16.

April 17, 2008

"Frustration Opens the Door to Religiosity"

SayyidPrayingCairoMosque.jpg "Ahmed Muhammad Sayyid, center, praying at a Cairo mosque, has drawn religion closer after many disappointments." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 1) Here in Egypt and across the Middle East, many young people are being forced to put off marriage, the gateway to independence, sexual activity and societal respect. Stymied by the government's failure to provide adequate schooling and thwarted by an economy without jobs to match their abilities or aspirations, they are stuck in limbo between youth and adulthood.

"I can't get a job, I have no money, I can't get married, what can I say?" Mr. Sayyid said one day after becoming so overwhelmed that he refused to go to work, or to go home, and spent the day hiding at a friend's apartment.

In their frustration, the young are turning to religion for solace and purpose, pulling their parents and their governments along with them.

. . .

The wave of religious identification has forced governments that are increasingly seen as corrupt or inept to seek their own public redemption through religion.

. . .

(p. 11) Depression and despair tormented dozens of men and women in their 20s interviewed across Egypt, from urban men like Mr. Sayyid to frustrated village residents like Walid Faragallah, who once hoped education would guarantee him social mobility. Their stifled dreams stoke anger toward the government.

"Nobody cares about the people," Mr. Sayyid said, slapping his hands against the air, echoing sentiment repeated in many interviews with young people across Egypt. "Nobody cares. What is holding me back is the system. Find a general with children and he will have an apartment for each of them. My government is only close to those close to the government."

. . .

Mr. Sayyid's path to stalemate began years ago, in school.

Like most Egyptians educated in public schools, his course of study was determined entirely by grades on standardized tests. He was not a serious student, often skipping school, but scored well enough to go on to an academy, something between high school and a university. He was put in a five-year program to study tourism and hotel operations.

His diploma qualified him for little but unemployment. Education experts say that while Egypt has lifted many citizens out of il-(p. 12)literacy, its education system does not prepare young people for work in the modern world. Nor, according to a recent Population Council report issued in Cairo, does its economy provide enough well-paying jobs to allow many young people to afford marriage.

Egypt's education system was originally devised to produce government workers under a compact with society forged in the heady early days of President Gamal Abdel Nasser's administration in the late 1950s and '60s.

Every graduate was guaranteed a government job, and peasant families for the first time were offered the prospect of social mobility through education. Now children of illiterate peasant farmers have degrees in engineering, law or business. The dream of mobility survives, but there are not enough government jobs for the floods of graduates. And many are not qualified for the private sector jobs that do exist, government and business officials said, because of their poor schooling. Business students often never touch a computer, for example.

On average, it takes several years for graduates to find their first job, in part because they would rather remain unemployed than work in a blue-collar factory position. It is considered a blow to family honor for a college graduate to take a blue-collar job, leaving large numbers of young people with nothing to do.

"O.K., he's a college graduate," said Muhammad el-Seweedy, who runs a government council that has tried with television commercials to persuade college graduates to take factory jobs and has provided training to help improve their skills. "It's done. Now forget it. This is a reality."

But more widespread access to education has raised expectations. "Life was much more bearable for the poor when they did accept their social status," said Galal Amin, an economist and the author of "Whatever Happened to the Egyptians?" "But it is unimaginable when you have an education, to have this thought accepted. Frustration opens the door to religiosity."

For the full story, see:

MICHAEL SLACKMAN. "Generation Faithful; Dreams Stifled, Egypt's Young Turn to Islamic Fervor." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., February 17, 2008): 1 & 11-12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

YoungAndJoblessMapGraph.jpg Source of graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

April 16, 2008

The Free Market Works

The story quoted below tells how outsourcing high-tech jobs to India has bid up the salaries of high-tech Indian engineers, thereby reducing the appeal of further outsourcing. Marvelous how the market works!

Another lesson from the story applies to forecasting: mechanical extrapolation of current trends is inferior to prediction that takes account of predictable changes in prices (in this case, salaries).

(p. A15) Around the century's turn, when U.S. companies first began flooding to India for its cheap labor, pundits warned that the subcontinent could increasingly rob the U.S. of high-end white-collar jobs. Debate was especially sharp in Silicon Valley, then in a slump, because India annually turns out nearly 500,000 engineering graduates.

. . .

Several years on, the forces of globalization are starting to even things out between the U.S. and India, in sophisticated technology work. As more U.S. tech companies poured in, they soaked up the pool of high-end engineers qualified to work at global companies, belying the notion of an unlimited supply of top Indian engineering talent. In a 2005 study, McKinsey & Co. estimated that just a quarter of India's computer engineers had the language proficiency, cultural fit and practical skills to work at multinational companies.

The result is increasing competition for the most skilled Indian computer engineers and a narrowing U.S.-India gap in their compensation. India's software-and-service association puts wage inflation in its industry at 10% to 15% a year. Some tech executives say it's closer to 50%. In the U.S., wage inflation in the software sector is under 3%, according to Moody's Economy.com.

Rafiq Dossani, a scholar at Stanford University's Asia-Pacific Research Center who recently studied the Indian market, found that while most Indian technology workers' wages remain low -- an average $5,000 a year for a new engineer with little experience -- the experienced engineers Silicon Valley companies covet can now cost $60,000 to $100,000 a year. "For the top-level talent, there's an equalization," he says.

For the full story, see:

Pui-Wing Tam and Jackie Range. "Second Thoughts: Some in Silicon Valley Begin to Sour on India; A Few Bring Jobs Back As Pay of Top Engineers In Bangalore Skyrockets." Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 3, 2007): A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

April 15, 2008

Rejecting Environmentalism's "Politics of Limits"


Source of book image: http://a1055.g.akamai.net/f/1055/1401/5h/images.barnesandnoble.com/images/13180000/13180098.JPG

(p. D5) In survey after survey, American voters say that they care about global warming, but the subject ranks quite low when compared with other concerns (e.g., the economy, health care, the war on terror). Even when Mr. Gore's Oscar-winning film, "An Inconvenient Truth," was at the height of its popularity, it did not increase the importance of global warming in the public mind or mobilize greater support for Mr. Gore's favored remedies--e.g., reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by government fiat. Mr. Gore may seek to make environmental protection civilization's "central organizing principle," as he puts it, but there is no constituency for such a regime. Hence even the Democratic Party's presidential candidates, in their debates, give global warming only cursory treatment, with lofty rhetoric and vague policy proposals.

There is a reason for this political freeze-up. In "Break Through," Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger argue that Mr. Gore and the broader environmental movement--in which Mr. Gore plays an almost messianic part--remain wedded to an outmoded vision, seeing global warming as "a problem of pollution to be fixed by a politics of limits." Such a vision may have worked in the early days of environmentalism, when the first clear-air and clean-water regulations were pushed through Congress, but today it cannot mobilize enough public support for dramatic political change.

What is to be done? Messrs. Nordhaus and Shellenberger want to replace the pollution paradigm with a progressive one. They broached this idea in "The Death of Environmentalism," a controversial 2004 monograph that ricocheted around the Internet. "Break Through" gives the idea a fuller exposition and even greater urgency. The authors contend that the environmental movement must throw out its "unexamined assumptions, outdated concepts, and exhausted strategies" in favor of something "imaginative, aspirational, and future-oriented."

For the full review, see:

JONATHAN H. ADLER. "BOOKSHELF; The Lowdown on Doomsday." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, November 27, 2007): D5.

April 14, 2008

Gates Should Apply His Entrepreneurial Skills to His Philanthropy

From a cogent letter to the editor by Fred Smith:

(p. A13) The tragedy of Gates-style philanthropy is less that it will do little good but, rather, that he has abandoned the entrepreneurial skills used so creatively in his truly significant wealth-creation work at Microsoft. Had he employed similar skills in dealing with the problems of Africa, he would not -- as Mr. Barro notes he is largely doing -- simply replicate the tried and failed policies of traditional paternalistic aid. Rather, he would be examining the barriers -- political, cultural, tribal -- that block entrepreneurial activity throughout Africa and explore ways to remove them. Could we, for instance, out-compete the oligarchs and tyrants by creating prizes that would bypass the bureaucracy and achieve success in health- and wealth-creation, in reducing corruption?

For the full letter, see:

Fred L. Smith Jr. "Do Something for Other People by Getting Very, Very Rich." Wall Street Journal (Fri., Jun 29, 2007): A13.

April 13, 2008

Entrepreneur Calls 2008 "The Year of the Spaceship"

WhiteKnightTwo-SpaceShipTwo.jpg Burt Rutan's current design for WhiteKnightTwo, carrying the smaller SpaceShipTwo spaceship. Source of image: http://www.techno-science.net/?onglet=news&news=4993

(p. A18) Virgin Galactic, the company that hopes to fly well-heeled tourists to the edge of space by the end of 2009, provided a peek Wednesday at the craft that will take them there.

During a news conference at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur whose Virgin Airways is the parent company of the project, said 2008 would be "the year of the spaceship."

Mr. Branson showed models of two vehicles, both created by the airplane designer Burt Rutan. WhiteKnightTwo, a two-fuselage, four-engine plane, is designed to ferry a smaller spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, high into the sky and release it. The pilot of SpaceShipTwo will then fire the craft's rocket engine, which burns a combination of nitrous oxide and a rubber-based solid fuel, shooting the vehicle to an altitude of more than 62 miles into the realm of black sky.

For the full story, see:

JOHN SCHWARTZ. "Built to Fly Into Space With the Greatest of Ease (They Hope)." The New York Times (Thurs., January 24, 2008): A18.

SpaceShipTwo.jpg Artist's rendering of SpaceShipTwo spaceship. Source of image: http://www.techno-science.net/?onglet=news&news=4993

April 12, 2008

Media Futures Market Achieves "Astonishing Accuracy"

The passage below is quoted from a WSJ summary of an article that appeared in the July 9-16, 2007 issue of The New Yorker:

(p. B8) The most successful media prediction market is the Hollywood Stock Exchange. According to a study by Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse, the markets' forecasts of box-office performance are off by 16% on average. That's astonishing accuracy for an industry which, despite all kinds of attempts to predict what will work, assumes that the vast majority of its product will fail at the box office.

For the full summary, see:

"The Informed Reader; Marketing; What's the Next Big Thing? Prediction Markets Answer." Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 2, 2007): B8.

April 11, 2008

Much Health Spending "Does Nothing to Improve Our Health"


Shannon Brownlee is the author of "Overtreated" which "diagnoses the big flaw in medical spending." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT commentary quoted and cited below.

(p. C5) Fortunately -- if that's the right word -- there is an obvious candidate for cost-cutting: all that care that brings no health benefit. It's not hard to find examples. Scientific studies have shown that many treatments, including spinal fusion, routine episiotomies and neonatal intensive care, are overdone. These procedures often help specific subsets of patients. But for a lot of people, and "Overtreated" is full of stories, the treatments are a modern-day version of bloodletting.

"We spend between one fifth and one third of our health care dollars," writes Ms. Brownlee, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and former writer for U.S. News & World Report, "on care that does nothing to improve our health."

Worst of all, overtreatment often causes harm, because even the safest procedures bring some risk. One study found that a group of Medicare patients admitted to high-spending hospitals were 2 to 6 percent more likely to die than a group admitted to more conservative hospitals.

For the rest of the commentary, see:

DAVID LEONHARDT. "ECONOMIC SCENE; No. 1 Book, And It Offers Solutions." The New York Times (Weds., December 19, 2007): C1 & C5.

April 10, 2008

Non-Market Health Care Pricing Results in Health Care Shortages

(p. A22) When my Labrador retriever became acutely lame, we were able to locate a veterinary orthopedic expert in Atlanta within 48 hours who was able to repair a ruptured tendon within one week. But my prospects of identifying an endocrinologist who can care for my daughter's diabetes when she turns 18 are much less promising.

The limited number of endocrine specialists is a not a consequence of limited demand -- everyone is aware of the epidemic of diabetes we are facing. There are also shortages of generalists and other specialists, and the reason is the absence of market signals -- i.e., market-based prices -- for influencing the supply of physicians in various specialties.

The roots of this problem lay in the use of administrative pricing structures in medicine. The way prices are set in health care already distorts the appropriate allocation of efforts and resources in health care today. Unfortunately, many of the suggested reforms of our health care system -- including the various plans for universal care, or universal insurance, or a single-payer system, that various policy makers and Democratic presidential candidates espouse -- rest on the same unsound foundations, and will produce more of the same.

. . .

One important lesson of the 20th century is that, while markets are far from perfect, more choices are available when people are able to use free markets to interact with each other. Markets may not get the prices exactly correct all the time, but they are capable of self- correction, a capacity that has yet to be demonstrated by administrative pricing.

It tells you something when the supply of and demand for specialist veterinary care is so easily matched when the prices of these services are established on the market -- while shortages and oversupplies are common for human medical care when the prices of these services are set by administrators in the public sector. Will health-care reformers -- and American citizens -- get the message?

For the full commentary, see:

Robert A. Swerlick. "Our Soviet Health System." Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jun 5, 2007): A22.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

April 9, 2008

Entrepreneurial Medicine Hunter Seeks Cures in Ethnobotany

MacaDried.jpg Source of photo: screen capture from slide show on online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. C1) Part David Attenborough, part Indiana Jones, Mr. Kilham, an ethnobotanist from Massachusetts who calls himself the Medicine Hunter, has scoured remote jungles and highlands for three decades for plants, oils and extracts that can heal. He has eaten bees and scorpions in China, fired blow guns with Amazonian natives, and learned traditional war dances from Pacific Islanders.

But behind the colorful tales lies the prospect of money, lots of money -- for Western pharmaceutical companies, impoverished indigenous tribes and Mr. Kilham.

. . .

(p. C5) In Peru, Mr. Kilham is betting on maca, a small root vegetable that grows here in the central highlands -- "a turnip that packs a punch," he says, adding "it imparts energy, sex drive and stamina like nothing else."

That view is supported by studies carried out at the International Potato Center, a Lima-based research center that is internationally financed and staffed. Studies there show maca improves stamina, reduces the risk of prostate cancer and increases the motility, volume and quality of sperm.

Some peer reviewed studies published in the journal Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology backed up those findings.

. . .

One product, Maca Stimulant, is sold in Wal-Mart under Mr. Kilham's Medicine Hunter brand. Mr. Kilham earns a retainer from both Naturex and Enzymatic Therapy, in addition to royalties from another Medicine Hunter-branded product at Wal-Mart.

Mr. Kilham says he earns around $200,000 each year in retainers, and sales are so buoyant he expects to make "in the mid-six figures" in royalties next year.

Mr. Kilham insists he is not in the business simply for financial gain. His motivation comes from promoting herbal medicines and helping traditional communities, he said.

"I have financial security and don't need to make money from this," he said. "I believe trade is the best way to get good medicines to the public, to help the environment and to help indigenous people."

He and Mr. Cam pay growers here in Ninacaca a premium of 6 soles (about $2) for a kilo of maca, almost twice the going rate of 3 to 3.40 soles a kilo. They have set up a computer room at the Chakarunas warehouse and a free dental clinic, the town's first.

Mr. Kilham is clearly adored by the locals in these desolate, wind-swept villages. On a recent visit here, shamans, maca growers and their families flocked to him. Since only maca and potatoes grow at this altitude, they are thankful Mr. Kilham is helping them sell their produce.

For the full story, see:

ANDREW DOWNIE. "On a Remote Path to Cures." The New York Times (Tues., January 1, 2008): C1 & C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

MacaFlour.jpg Source of photo: screen capture from slide show on online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

April 8, 2008

Income of Rich "Largely Invested in the Tools and Knowledge of Production"

In the passage below, Nobel-Prize-winner Vernon Smith brings our attention to an intriguing passage from Adam Smith's "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" (1759).

In the development of new products from the process of creative destruction, new products sometimes start out as expensive, and are only purchased by the rich. This allows the new industry to survive until economies of scale, and more efficient production techniques are achieved. Eventually, as efficiencies are achieved, prices decline. An example would be the early years of the development of autmobiles. (One source for this example is Blue Ocean Strategy, pp. 193-194).

(p. A20) . . . the income of the rich is largely invested in the tools and knowledge of production, which provide future long-term value for everyone: "The rich only select from the heap what is most precious and agreeable . . . though they mean only their own conveniency . . . [and] . . . the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements."

For the full commentary, see:

VERNON L. SMITH. "The Clinton Housing Bubble." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., December 18, 2007): A20.

April 7, 2008

Creative Sparks Arise from Opportunistic Innovation


Source of book image:

(p. D16) One of the insights of "Strategic Intuition" is that business makes progress by following the opportunistic innovation model, while governments and international-aid agencies aim repetitively at rigid social goals. Such rigidity happens partly for a reason that Mr. Duggan is too polite to mention -- bureaucrats, by nature, rarely give off a creative spark. Mr. Duggan prefers to emphasize a structural cause: The public demands solutions to problems of great social importance; thus bureaucrats get stuck with fixed objectives. Yet Mr. Duggan also shows that social progress often happens by emulating the opportunism of business. Among the most powerful of his examples is Muhammad Yunus's invention of microcredit.

. . .

If there are still businessmen who feel compelled to follow a fixed-goal plan -- missing out on the profits of opportunistic flexibility -- then at least there is the free market to punish them. Market feedback is surely one big reason that we have so many innovative entrepreneurs. Where the old approach does most of the damage is in social policy, where the feedback is either fuzzy (as in domestic policy) or absent (foreign aid). Social policy could use a lot fewer commencement speakers and a lot more creative sparkers.

For the full review, see:

WILLIAM EASTERLY. "BOOKSHELF; Surprised by Opportunity." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., November 14, 2007): D16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

The reference to the Stratetic Intuition book is:

Duggan, William. Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

April 6, 2008

Market Prices Send "the Right Signal to the Customer to Save Energy"

In the passage quoted below, the "commission" refers to China's "National Development and Reform Commission."

(p. A6) The commission estimates China's energy efficiency is about 10% below that of developed countries because of obsolete technology. But many experts say Beijing's policy priorities are a bigger obstacle.

Worries about social unrest and inflation led Beijing to put the brakes on pricing overhauls, at tremendous cost to state refiners PetroChina Co. and China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., known as Sinopec.

"Market prices are a very important and key issue because they send out the right signal to the customer to save energy," said Yang Fuqiang, vice president of the Energy Foundation in Beijing.

For the full story, see:

David Winning. "Why Energy Efficiencies Prove Elusive in China." Wall Street Journal (Tues., Nov. 6, 2007): A6.

April 5, 2008

Blindly Imitating a False Vision of Ancient Sculpture

TrojanArcher.jpg "Trojan Archer from the Temple of Aphaia on Aegina." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

Ayn Rand's Howard Roark in The Fountainhead railed against the mindless imitation of the classics, as embodied for instance in the Parthenon. In sculpture there has also been blind imitation of white classical figures, such as one that has recently been installed next to the Arts and Sciences Building on my campus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

One imagines that Rand and Roark would have been amused by the article quoted below, that shows that the classical sculptures were actually rich in color.

(p. D8) The Venus de Milo: white. The Apollo Belvedere: white. The Barberini Faun: white. The passing centuries may have cast their pall of grime, yet ever since the Renaissance rediscovered antiquity, our Platonic ideal of classical statuary has been bare marble: bleached, bone white.

The Greeks and Romans did not see it that way. The current show "Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity" -- through Jan. 20 at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum on Harvard University's campus -- makes a bold attempt to set the record straight. On view are replicas painted in the same mineral and organic pigments used by the ancients: pulverized malachite (green), azurite (blue), arsenic compounds (yellow, orange), cinnabar or "dragon's blood" (red), as well as charred bone and vine (black). At first glance and quite a while after, the unaccustomed palette strikes most viewers as way over the top. But few would deny that these novelties -- archers, goddesses, mythic beasts -- look you straight in the eye.

. . .

By the 18th century, practitioners of the then-new science of archaeology were aware that the ancients had used color. But Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the German prefect of antiquities at the Vatican, preferred white. His personal taste was enshrined by fiat as the "classical" standard. And so it remained, unchallenged except by the occasional eccentric until the late 20th century.

For the full story, see:

MATTHEW GUREWITSCH. "CULTURAL CONVERSATION With Vinzenz Brinkman; Setting the Record Straight About Classical Statues' Hues." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., December 4, 2007): D8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

April 4, 2008

For-Profit Schools Teach Math Better than Non-Profit or Government Schools

(p. A23) When for-profit management of public schools was first proposed in Philadelphia six years ago, many in that city were extremely skeptical, if not aggressively hostile. So the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, the entity responsible for the innovation, gave only the 30 lowest performing schools to for-profit companies, while another 16 were given to nonprofit organizations, including two of the city's major universities (Temple and the University of Pennsylvania). Others were reorganized by the school district itself.

In effect, a competition was run among the three types of management -- for-profit, nonprofit, and government-run. Four years into the race, here are the results: Students at schools managed by for-profit firms were roughly six months ahead in math than would be expected had the schools remained in the hands of the school district. In reading, students in schools managed by for-profit firms were two months further along than they would have been if the schools had been under district control, though that difference was not large enough to give us statistical certainty. Meanwhile the nonprofits -- and the school district's own reorganized schools -- did no better than expected.

. . .

Though we believe our methodology to be state of the art, our findings will nonetheless be controversial, because they contradict a prior study by the RAND Corp. in February, which found no impact of private management on student performance. The RAND study, however, failed to separate out the schools managed by the for-profit firms from those managed by the nonprofit organizations. In our study, too, management effects are nil when the two are mixed together, as the positive impacts of for-profit firms are canceled out by the negative impacts of nonprofit organizations.

For the full commentary, see:

Paul E. Peterson and Matthew M. Chingos. "Educational Rewards." Wall Street Journal (Weds., Nov. 7, 2007): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

April 3, 2008

Lomborg Shows How Kyoto Protocol Wastes Money


Source of book image:

(p. D7) Standing in the practical middle is Bjorn Lomborg, the free-thinking Dane who, in "The Skeptical Environmentalist" (2001), challenged the belief that the environment is going to pieces. Mr. Lomborg is now back with "Cool It," a book brimming with useful facts and common sense.

Mr. Lomborg--"liberal, vegetarian, a former member of Greenpeace," as he describes himself--is hard to fit into any pigeonhole. He believes that global warming is happening, that man has caused it, and that national governments need to act. Yet he also believes that Al Gore is bordering on hysteria, that some global-warming science has been distorted and hyped, and that the Kyoto Protocol and other carbon-reduction schemes are a terrible waste of money. The world needs to think more rationally, he says, about how to tackle this challenge.

. . .

Mr. Lomborg cites studies showing that by implementing Kyoto--at a cost of trillions of dollars--we might be able to achieve a 3% reduction in fluvial and coastal flooding damages. If we instead adopted smart flood policies--e.g., an end to public subsidies that encourage people to settle in flood plains, a shrewder use of levees--we could achieve a 91% reduction in damages at a fraction of the Kyoto cost.

For the full review, see:

KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL. "BOOKSHELF; A Calm Voice in a Heated Debate." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, September 13, 2007): D7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

April 2, 2008

The Danger of "Misconceived Pessimism"

In the full version of the commentary quoted below, the authors mention four lines of research that they believe hold promise for the future: vaccines, epigenetics, targeted therapies, and cancer "stem cells."

(p. A17) This week, the National Cancer Institute, in conjunction with other organizations that track cancers, reported that the death rate from cancer declined from 2002-2004 by an average of 2.1% per year. This is an improvement over the 1.1% annual declines from 1993-2002 and is very good news indeed. Each 1% decline represents 5,000 people living rather than dying, and, of course, this figure is compounded each year.

While some part of the declining death rate from cancer is the consequence of screening, much is the result of greatly improved treatments. And we believe that the successes achieved to date are only the modest beginning of a revolution in the research into and treatment of cancer.

During the last half of the 20th century, almost all treatments of cancers involved forms of chemotherapy in which cancerous and normal tissues were bombarded with nonselective cytoxic drugs. These drugs killed all cells, healthy as well as malignant. Worse, they did not kill all cancer cells, so the cancer progressed -- leading to the pessimism dominant in people's minds today, a reflection of years of articles and opinion pieces in the popular press expressing the view that "the war on cancer" has been waged incorrectly, if not lost.

Now, however, new therapeutic modes are in play, based on better understandings of cancers and great advances in technologies.

. . .

The danger is that misconceived pessimism might result in a loss of popular moral support for the revolutionary new approaches to cancer research and treatment.

For the full commentary, see:

Samuel Waxman and Richard Gambino. "The New Ways We Fight Cancer." Wall Street Journal (Oct 18, 2007): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

April 1, 2008

Lower Taxes Encourage Entrepreneurship in Ireland

WebReservationsOfficers.jpg "Feargal Mooney, left, is chief operating officer for Web Reservations International. Ray Nolan is the founder and chief executive officer. Web Reservations provides booking and management for hostels that cater to economy travelers." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. C8) DUBLIN -- Ireland is now alive with enthusiasm for entrepreneurs, who seemingly rank just below rock stars in popularity.

. . .

The relatively new emphasis on entrepreneurs in Ireland is the culmination of nearly four decades of government policies that have lifted the economy from centuries of poverty to modern prosperity.

The change began when Ireland entered the European Union in 1973. In subsequent years, the government rewrote its tax policies to attract foreign investment by American corporations, made all education free through the university level and changed tax rates and used direct equity investment to encourage Irish people to set up their own businesses.

"The change came in the 1990s," said James Murphy, founder and managing director of Lifes2Good, a marketer of drugstore products for muscle aches, hair loss and other maladies. "Taxes and interest rates came down, and all of a sudden we believed in ourselves."

The new environment also encouraged Ray Nolan, who founded Raven Computing in 1989 to provide software for lawyers to keep track of billable hours. He sold that company and founded another that created software for companies to manage billing and receipts. And in 1999, he founded Web Reservations International to provide booking and property management for hostels that cater to backpackers and economy travelers.

"Hostel owners needed to keep track of people sharing rooms, and bookings for Americans coming to Dublin for three nights," said Feargal Mooney, chief operating officer of Web Reservations. "Hostel accommodations go for 10 to 20 euro a night," he said, or $15 to $30 at today's exchange rates, "so booking reservations in them wasn't profitable for the big travel companies."

For the full story, see:

JAMES FLANIGAN. "ENTREPRENEURIAL EDGE; Ireland Uses Incentives To Help Start-Ups Flourish." The New York Times (Thurs., January 17, 2008): C8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


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